Survey Examines Global Mobility Amid Coronavirus Crisis


Among 600 US higher education institutions, 88 percent anticipate that international student enrollment will decrease in 2020-21, with 30 percent predicting a substantial decline. These results come from the second in a series of surveys from the Institute of International Education (IIE) analyzing the effects of COVID-19 on US campuses.

Since March when IIE released its first survey—focused on mobility to and from China where the virus originated—COVID-19 has infected more than 3.2 million people globally with more than a million cases in the US. The current report focuses on international mobility more globally, with specific attention to actions US institutions took in spring 2020 and plan to take for summer and fall 2020.

This spring, nearly all campuses canceled on-campus events (96 percent), closed campus buildings and offices (91 percent), and moved in-person classes to remote/virtual instruction (99.5 percent). However, a significant portion of universities (46 percent) kept dormitories and student housing open to provide options for international or domestic students with special needs. Over 80 percent of institutions reported providing increased communications to international students on health, safety and well-being, and visa compliance.

A very small percentage of international students who were out of the country when the pandemic started were unable to come to the US as a result of travel restrictions, and only 8 percent of students left the US as a result of COVID-19. The majority of institutions offered distance education classes or independent study (78 percent) in spring 2020 and about a third of institutions offered students the option to defer their enrollment to fall 2020 or beyond (37 percent) or take a leave of absence for the semester (34 percent).

Students who are interested in deferring their enrollment to fall 2020, however, may find the option impracticable. Travel restrictions and visa delays, which are out of institutions’ control, are expected to prevent many international students from entering the US this fall, even if campuses are open for in-person classes. As a result, most institutions (75 percent) are giving students the option to defer enrollment to later in the 2020-21 academic year.

Lindsay Addington is NACAC’s director of global engagement. You can reach her at

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